Mark Weaver's Op-Ed from The Tennessean on Why the Mayor's Sex Scandal Didn't Have to End Like a Sad Country Song

Here's Mark Weaver's latest op-ed column, published by The Tennessean (Nashville's daily newspaper) - why the Mayor's sex scandal didn't have to end like a sad country song. Read below or click here.

Megan Barry's tenure didn’t have to end like a sad country song

By Mark R. Weaver

There are countless country music songs that include the phrase “I’m sorry.”

The most famous is Brenda Lee’s, where she laments her actions and asks, “Please accept my apology … love was blind and I was too blind to see.”

As if in reply, Blake Shelton sings a different tune, in the power ballad, “I’m Sorry,” crooning: “Oh, you're sorry, you want it back the way it was … but sometimes sorry just ain't good enough.”

The Brenda Lee request from Megan Barry, the fallen mayor of country music’s own hometown, was a hopeful plea for another chance. But the public’s Blake Shelton response brought a discordant coda to her public life.

In the end, it was just another mournful refrain that resounded across town, from the tourist-pleasing cover joints on Broadway to the foam-padded studios along Music Row and far beyond the city limits. 

As a frequent visitor to Nashville, I often speak to conferences here about crisis communications and how public officials can manage the fallout from a big mistake. You won’t be surprised to hear that Megan Barry never took one of my classes.

Those of us who advise government leaders on how to respond to scandal watched the Barry episode with the same kind of grim foreboding of an air traffic controller eyeballing a damaged plane in sharp descent. We know how this flight ends. 

The former mayor tried valiantly to rebound from her serious errors in judgment. In fact, many of her tactics evinced some competent counsel in her corner. Yet she nonetheless resigned, in shame, pleading guilty to a felony.

More people than Carrie Underwood are wondering what “Could’ve Been.” Could the mayor have done something different to survive this shameful experience?

Maybe. She certainly knew there were incriminating texts and improper overtime payments. Paying back the money before she broke the news of the affair might’ve forestalled the need for any investigations. But even more was needed.

Owning up to more than a mere marital indiscretion and telling all the facts at once could’ve prevented the cascade of negative stories that spurred more TV drama and gossip than any show with Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere. 

And if the mayor had quickly acknowledged that she broke the law and asked prosecutors to treat her case like that of any other person, it would’ve engendered more public support for her. That kind of boost can go a long way to sustaining a public official in trouble.

Her early defense of special security for international jaunts, hot yoga, and Preds playoff games was wrong-headed and suggested that her repeated claims of transparency surrounding the matter were no more than a veneer. 

In the end, Megan Barry was ensnared by the denials, deflections, and deceptions that are now de rigueur for politicians in distress. Not wanting to hand their partisan opponents a club to use against them, they end up beating themselves. 

Mayor Barry might have saved her job. But much of the same poor judgement that got her into the problem was still in play as she tried to wriggle out of it.   

We all screw up. But politicians spend so much energy seeking adulation and burnishing an image of honesty, their human imperfections become all the more glaring.

Indeed – ask anyone down at the Bluebird — the guitar player who insists on his audio being mixed louder than the rest of the band draws the most groans when he plays the wrong chord. 

Mark R. Weaver is an attorney and crisis communications expert who has advised government officials in more than 25 states. One of his primary clients, the National Fraternal Order of Police, is based in Nashville. He is the author of the book “A Wordsmith’s Work.” Twitter: @MarkRWeaver.


Mark Weaver's Essay on Passing of Friend and Former Abbington, PA Congressman Jon Fox

The Wonderful Life of Jon Fox

By Mark R. Weaver

Bedford Falls had George Bailey. And Abington had Jon Fox.

Fans of the classic movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” remember George Bailey as the Bedford Falls hometown boy who devoted himself to helping others and was ultimately rewarded when his countless acts of love and generosity were returned in kind. Friends of Abington stalwart Jon Fox will remember him in much the same way.

Fox, one of the most popular and durable elected officials in modern Montgomery County history, died Sunday night at the age of 70. He was the Abington-born son of a prominent family who rejected a life of privilege to pursue public service and help others. The people he aided repeatedly flocked to the polls to elect him to office, eventually sending him to the United States Congress for two terms. He met and conferred with U.S. presidents, ambassadors, and famous people from across the globe. Yet he preferred the quiet company of friends and neighbors in Abington.

Most of us know how to spot a typical politician: someone looking over your shoulder searching for another hand to shake, another vote to secure. Many politicians promptly forget the people who supported them, content with the prestige and perks of office. For these officeholders, constituent service is handed off to a low-paid staffer, with instructions to do the bare minimum and move along to the next request.

Jon Fox rejected that ethos. Serving in local, county, state and federal office, he shunned contentious partisan fights, preferring the quiet satisfaction of helping people when government stood in their way. His life, his desk, even his car was a messy mix of papers gathered from people in need who trusted that Jon would come through for them. Despite the collection of clutter, he usually did.

Service to others came early for Jon Fox. As a young man, he served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve for six years, building a brimming sense of patriotism that fueled his fervent belief in American exceptionalism. He soon joined the Republican Party and stood by its leaders in good times and bad.

His first exposure to government was working for the General Services Administration in Washington, D.C. Then, after graduating from the first-ever law school class of Delaware Law School in Wilmington, Delaware, Jon passed the Pennsylvania bar and began working as an Assistant District Attorney in Montgomery County. He prosecuted dangerous criminals, volunteered to help battered women, and built a strong alliance with local police. He later established a private law practice, where — unlike almost any other lawyer — he routinely made house calls, helping local senior citizens and those with minor legal problems right at their own kitchen table.

Jon’s first elected office was as a Township Commissioner, representing the Jenkintown and Baederwood sections of Abington. He won votes by sheer persistence and good nature. Once elected, he stepped up his effort to an even higher level, particularly focusing on the needs of local senior citizens. He served two terms and won the respect of leaders twice his age.

In 1984, he earned statewide attention by winning an Abington-Rockledge state legislative seat that had been held by the Democratic Party for several years. In that campaign, he knocked on thousands of doors, worked 18-hour days, and won by a margin of more than two to one. Later, in 1991, Montgomery County residents elected him to be County Commissioner and then, on the second try, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1994, where he served two terms.

He was the son of business titan William Fox, a driving force behind several Abington-area institutions including founding local radio station WIBF, the Fox Pavilion (now known as the Pavilion) and local apartment buildings Benson Manor, Benson East, and Foxcroft. Jon’s mother Elainne was the spark of the family and Jon inherited her enthusiasm and flair for relating to others. The whole Fox family, including sister Caren and brother Larry, quickly learned that Jon had a knack for politics and government.

After graduating from nearby Cheltenham High School, Jon went to Penn State University, where he became a cheerleader, urging on the massive crowds that flock to the Nittany Lion football games. He revered Penn State for the rest of his life. While he was always willing to put a Republican bumper sticker on his car, Jon’s favorite sticker was non-political. It read “if God’s not a Penn State fan, why is the sky blue and white?”

Jon was Jewish but, for many years, he dressed as Santa to bring toys to local children. He had a habit of running late, and one December day, while racing between toy deliveries, he didn’t have time to change out of the Santa outfit. Driving down Easton Road, wearing the red hat and beard, he stopped at a red light, just behind a car sporting a Penn State decal. Jon didn’t know the driver, but he got out of his car, walked up to the other car and tapped on the glass. The man behind the wheel rolled down the window, mouth agape at the white-bearded visage. Jon leaned in and whispered, “even Santa Claus roots for Penn State.”

Jon had one true love of his life, his wife Judi whom he met while she was working for Jon’s father in the 1980s. She cared for him like no other and her love and devotion gave Jon the stability to continue his work for fellow Republicans, people who needed legal help, or just about anyone with a problem.

Jon passed away after battling multiple forms of cancer over the last few years. Despite the toll of debilitating treatments, he continued his legal practice, representing clients in local courts even as he grew weaker.

Jon’s hope for the future was focused on his son, Will — named for Jon’s father. Jon loved Will with the blooming passion of the proudest of fathers. His gentle guidance and doting tenderness encircled Will in an extravagant embrace.

Most members of Congress leave behind a legacy of laws. But Jon’s is a heritage of hope. Like the fictional George Bailey, Jon was beloved by his hometown and his success was built by advancing the success of others. His encouragement of friends was boundless, his optimism untamed.

In his seven decades of life, Jon rarely rested. There was always another person to help, another problem to solve, another burden to share.

Now, he rests.

###

Abington native Mark R. Weaver was the political strategist for Jon Fox’s first major election in 1984. He is the author of the book “A Wordsmith’s Work,” which includes a chapter about Jon Fox and his family. He is a long-time family friend. Twitter: @MarkRWeaver

Mark Weaver's Latest Op-Ed on The Role Of The President. Spoiler Alert: Government Power is Like a Cube of Energy

Here's Mark Weaver's latest op-ed, as published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Spoiler alert: government power is like a cube of energy.

Read below or click here.

Both sides misunderstand the role of the president

By Mark R. Weaver

A year ago, roughly half the country was celebrating the inauguration of a new president and the other half was lamenting the years to come. And nine years ago, those respective sides were in near turnabout. Barack Obama took the oath of office cheered by supporters giddy with victory, while the opposition grumbled with despair.

This discord isn’t new, but it’s growing deeper. And it yields a bumper crop of challenges. The problem is complex, yet many proposed responses are equal parts reflexive and reductive.

Much of this American anger focuses on who resides in the White House. Too often, when the candidate we opposed wins the presidency, we become gloomy about the fate of the nation.

This melancholy of the vanquished can be traced to at least one core misconception – the illusion that most of the government’s power resides in the president. Those who view the president as the daddy of the country or the person “running the country” need remedial study in American government. 

Power in the United States is peacefully given through the consent of the governed and then divided and separated among many leaders. The president is simply one of many holding that power.

Imagine all the power to run a nation condensed into a cube of energy. Throughout the sweep of time, monarchs, chieftains, and despots have jealously monopolized that powerful cube. The fates and fortunes of those governed rose or fell based on the whim of the cube-holder. Corrupt leaders grasping the full complement of power could rob their countrymen of everything, including their lives.

Our founding fathers were avid students of history and, having just escaped the snare of a jealous king, were keen to frame a system of governance that would confound the ability of any one person to bring down a nation. 

Common bedside reading for the likes of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton was the work of French philosopher Baron de Montesquieu. Building on the division of powers in ancient Rome, Montesquieu noted that spreading power over many people limited the likelihood of wide-spread corruption or incompetence. 

Thus, the Constitution, through the principles of separation of powers and federalism, takes that cube of energy and divides it at least nine different ways. The first three cuts occur left to right – the branches of government. These executive, legislative, and judicial slices split authority that, in most nations, had been housed in a single ruler.

The next division is top to bottom, three more slices of Neapolitan ice cream-inspired division. These federal, state and local layers distribute government power among officeholders in Washington, state capitols, and city halls.

After the slicing and dicing, power is divided among literally thousands of different people. No single person in that array – not even the president – can widely affect the power held by others.

Because executive branch leaders hold sway individually, presidents, governors, and mayors are more noticeable than legislators and judges. That’s why people tend to focus more on them and it leads many to conclude that the character, competence, or credibility of a president matters more than for other leaders. It doesn’t. 

If you hated the last president and blame most of our nation’s problems on him, you’re wrong. And if you detest the current president and attribute most of our difficulties to him, you’re equally wrong.

I know this perspective will clash in the minds of many. Our brain is much like our musical ear, which prefers Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” to an overtired toddler’s piano rendition of “Chopsticks.” When we hold a strong belief, information from those who challenge that belief seems incorrect. Which is why cognitive dissonance is more than just choice “B” on your psych mid-term.

So don’t take my word for this. Read the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. These are the owner’s manuals for our republic.

The occupant of the White House might lead the news every night and be the easiest person to argue about, but that doesn’t make him the center of government power. Many presidents expected to run things only to discover that other officeholders also had their hands on the tiller of our ship of state.

President Truman groused, “I sit here all day trying to persuade people to do the things they ought to have sense enough to do without my persuading them. That’s all the powers of the President amount to.”

From township trustee to the commander in chief – every government role is consequential. By design, the power to govern America is less like a single guide star and more like the bright constellations glowing in a clear night sky. And understanding that will help you fully appreciate our galaxy of government.  

Mark R. Weaver is a crisis communications consultant and a partner at the Columbus law firm Isaac Wiles. His new book is “A Wordsmith’s Work.” Twitter: @MarkRWeaver.


Mark Weaver's Op-Ed On Lessons For The Media From the Alabama Special Election

Click here or read below:

Jones victory in Alabama holds lesson for journalism

By Mark R. Weaver

Millions of Americans are breathing a sigh of relief after worrying that Roy Moore, who was credibly accused of unwelcome sexual activity with underage teenagers, might somehow be elected to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate. Doug Jones defeated Moore by a slender margin, but as a veteran political observer and election law attorney, I believe the race should never have been so close.

Before this oddball special election grows too small in our rearview mirror, we’d be smart to see what we can learn about why things like this happen. There’s an explanation to be had.

Some pundits assert that the fact Moore nearly won is because Alabama is a ruby red state and, in politics, the best predictor of future voter behavior is past voter behavior. There’s some truth in that.

But Moore's achievement of 49 percent of the vote can be explained by more than just theories from the political science textbooks. There’s another causative factor here, and it ought to be covered in the next editions of the journalism textbooks.

The tales of Moore’s purported past with high schoolers broke in the Washington Post, which is respected by millions of readers. Yet many, if not most, Alabamans view the Post differently. Its editorial voice is stridently liberal, as are the vast majority of its opinion writers, and many of its news writers. Indeed, even before the Moore story went to print, this District of Columbia newspaper went out of its way to endorse against Moore. The paper doesn’t endorse in every U.S. Senate race. Why it chose to offer its voting booth advice to voters who are an 18-plus hour drive away is a question every thoughtful journalism professor ought to discuss in class.

The Post’s unnecessary endorsement, combined with its editorial tone of condescension toward Southerners who are all too aware of what folks up north think of them, weakened its credibility as a news source. The Moore campaign predictably exploited this sentiment from the moment the teenage impropriety story broke. No wonder a pre-election CBS poll found that just 21 percent of all Alabama voters believe the allegations against Moore are “definitely true.” A majority – 54 percent – either believed the charges to be false or said there wasn’t enough evidence to make a determination. The findings clearly reflect a distrust of the Post’s reporting.

The Post isn’t the only paper where an overzealous editorial page has undermined solid news reporting. Why does this happen?

When it comes to politics, reporters like to imagine themselves as a referee. They seek to call fouls and assign penalties in the competitive match between two campaigns working hard to win. But editorial endorsements – particularly ones by out-of-state newspapers laced with adjectives better suited to a campaign ad – remind voters that many news outlets wear the jersey of one team hidden beneath the black-and-white stripes of the referee shirt and within the black-and-white text of the editorial page.

As a result, the default position of most voters today is that too many news outlets are biased. And research shows that once humans believe something, it’s hard to change their mind. Sadly, journalists who abandon the objectivity of the sidelines for the body checks and bleacher cheers of the playing field have sacked their own credibility.

There are countless reporters whom I call friend. I know them to be decent people who accept little pay and work long hours because they believe, as Thomas Jefferson did, that robust journalism is “one of the great bulwarks of liberty.” Jefferson was right. But a bulwark – a community’s best protection against danger – can be weakened by poor maintenance and neglect. Newspapers who too easily root for one team to defeat the other team degrade the crucial role a free press plays in a free country. And their actions, as in Alabama, can make games that should have resulted in a lopsided victory turn into a buzzer-beating tiebreaker.

Mark R. Weaver is a crisis communications consultant and a partner at the Columbus law firm Isaac Wiles. His new book is “A Wordsmith’s Work.” Twitter: @MarkRWeaver.

Mark Weaver's Op-Ed On Judges Who Abuse the System

The Columbus Dispatch recently published Mark Weaver’s op-ed on judge who abuse the system. Click here or read below:

Judges who abuse system need quick rebuke

By Mark R. Weaver

Judges try hard not to be politicians. They wear robes meant to diminish preening. They write judicial opinions in the third person to project a greater sense of independence. And they cultivate an image that floats above the sharp elbows of the sometimes-shabby political process.

But there’s something judges don’t want you to know. Many were political animals before taking the bench and they continue those instincts as they prowl the judicial branch. And unlike peanut butter and jelly, politics and judging are a bad combination.

As an attorney, I’ve advised numerous Ohio judges on questions of ethics and what’s legal for them to do in and around the political maelstrom. While I don’t reveal what clients tell me in confidence, I can say that nearly all of them are sensitive to how their decisions might affect their ability to achieve higher office. Most jurists are able to tune this political radar to its lowest setting and make decisions strictly based on the constitution and the law. But a few take the opposite approach and game the justice system for their own personal and political advantage.

Consider exhibits A and B: Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill and Franklin County Appeals Court Judge Tim Horton. Both are currently drowning in the deep water of judicial misdeeds but still collecting their full salary from taxpayers.

Justice O’Neill has announced that he’s running for governor. That’s his right, but judicial ethics rules require candidates for non-judicial office to immediately step down from the bench. This ethical safeguard helps remove overt politics from court decisions. Nonetheless, O’Neill refuses to resign and yet claims he will stop hearing new cases. Why not leave now? He knows that the judicial discipline process grinds slowly and, by the time it ensnares him, he hopes to be the likely Democratic nominee and can simply resign then. Delay allows him to have his taxpayer-funded cake and eat it, too.

Judge Horton is running out the discipline clock in a different fashion. He’s already been convicted and served a jail sentence for mishandling campaign funds. A sitting judge sitting in jail is as rare as a Buckeye fan sleeping through game day. Judge Horton avoided more serious criminal liability by agreeing not to appeal his sentence. But then he appealed it anyway.

Horton knows disciplinary authorities won’t begin to consider removing him from the bench until his underlying case — including all appeals — is over. By filing an appeal where the law didn’t allow it and after he had agreed not to, he bought himself several more months of pay at a job that doesn’t even require daily attendance at the courthouse. Even then, the removal process will likely take many more months.

The Horton scandal first came to light in 2014, when he was scrutinized by fellow judges for serious allegations of sexual harassment. State investigators eventually recommended felony charges but the judge avoided them by admitting to some criminal behavior and accepting a misdemeanor conviction.

There’s something else these two unethical judges have in common — each defeated more-qualified opponents because of the well-known nature of their last names. O’Neill is unrelated to former Ohio governor and Supreme Court Chief Justice William O’Neill but has enjoyed electoral success due to Ohioans’ familiarity with the moniker. Horton doesn’t own any doughnut and coffee shops, but his initial campaign success was attributed by most observers to the fact that Tim Horton is a household name, and a yummy one at that.

Neither ought to remain on the bench. Each is abusing the system to stay put. They use the slow process of the judicial ethics system to stiff-arm the interests of justice.

Court rules need to be updated with an eye toward taking swifter action when there’s good evidence that a judge is abusing the extended due process of the system for little more than partisan or personal gain. When judicial officers act in clear defiance of ethical dictates, the power of suspension and removal should allow authorities to take action in weeks, not months or years.

Ohio voters historically have defended the system that allows judges to be elected rather than selected. But voters expect the rules that govern those judges to be equipped to take prompt action when a due-process safety net for judges becomes a hammock for politicians in robes.


Mark R. Weaver is a Columbus attorney and communications adviser. He was formerly deputy attorney general of Ohio. He is the author of the recently released book “A Wordsmith’s Work.”